Q & A: Pants Off with OKGo

Treadmills, canines and visual trickery aside, the indie rock outfit OKGo simplifies to childhood friends who just want to “create stuff.” Since forming in 1998, the foursome have spent their career in a steady state of transformation that spans music, film and movement. Their forthcoming album, Hungry Ghosts, is set to debut this fall — preceded by an ambitious summer tour. While diligently prepping on a soundstage, front man Damian Kulash took time from the madness to share his perspective on their musical growth, ridiculousness in clubs and the right moves to sweep a pants off-dance off. Shall we shimmy on? OK… Go…

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LA CANVAS: We’re looking forward to catching you guys at The Echo on 7/23, and noticed that most of your tour dates route through intimate venues. Was that deliberate? And, what can we expect of your live show?

DAMIAN KULASH: We were particular in picking small clubs, but it won’t be small staging. We’re really attempting the ambitious with our live show… musically, visually, and the experience. We’ll be bringing big production on the road with us that small clubs don’t normally have. Think lots of computers, LED screens, projection mapping, and other insane things from this new crazy world of technology. We want to prove that rock shows can be ridiculous, especially since we’ll be touring for the next year or two.

LAC: Speaking of years, it has been quite some time since your last full album. Tell us how OKGo has grown, and about the process behind making this new album.

DK: So it has been about 4 years since our last album, which was a very electronic and deliberate record. I think we’re done being deliberate with songs. For example, with our first single “Get Over It,” there was a lot of nu-metal or bands like The Strokes out at the time. We asked, “what about glory?” and we set out to write a stadium rock anthem. Now when we’re writing, our songs have no starting point. It’s like playing in a sandbox. We’ve grown so much in embracing not knowing what it is that we’re making, and planning less. Being open has really evolved our voice, both the process and result is a lot more unique like that. I feel that these new songs and this new album sound a lot more like “us” than our prior records.

LAC: So, does your mom think you’re famous?

DK: You know, we’ve been together as a band for 15 years, I’ve never felt that we’ve become super famous. I feel like we’re known in creative circles but we’re not really a pop culture band. But yes, my mom does read all the comments online and wallows, she’s pretty proud.

LAC: The story is told that OKGo was sparked from meeting at summer camp many, many moons ago, what was 11 year old you like?

DK: Tim & I have been friends for 27 years. Wow, that sounds weird to say that out loud (laughs). Since age 11, our friendship has been based around making stuff together. We were just 2 camp kids with a guitar and sketchbook, and we still look at things as art projects. From being kids to our career now, it does feel a little  full circle. We’re lucky for this to be our day job. You have to be naïve enough to chase this, as it’s really a one in a billion chance. We understand that, and we do our best to work hard.

LAC: People know OKGo as a Chicago band, but you’re mostly LA residents. Any favorite places and things to do in the city?

DK: None of us have lived in Chicago in about 10 years, we are here now and LA’s a good place to be. Some of our favorite spots include the Magic Castle, for obvious reasons, and Griffith Park. I love being in nature with my dogs and it’s just minutes from the bustle of the city. We’re always hunting for food spots too, we are big foodies.

LAC: Spill on your top taco spot.

DK: Ok, but there are 2 calibers of tacos. If you want fast, cheap yet good, then you have to hit up Taco Zone on Alvarado. There are definitely much better places on York Ave in Eagle Rock though, if you’re willing to make the drive.

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LAC: To ease the drive during the next few months, what’s on your tour playlist?

DK: I’ve just gone through a period of only listening to 60s and 70s soul, now I’m back into Led Zeppelin big time. Some newer acts on my radar are Hozier, such a soulful singer songwriter, and I’ve been feeling Jai Paul. They’re both pretty awesome.

LAC: Your band has earned bonus kudos on your impressive choreography but if there was a pants off dance off right now, which member would win and with what move?

DK: Without a doubt, it would be Tim and he would win with a little move that I’d like to call the “Pelvic Rodeo.” It’s a very intense and specialized dance. However, I should note that I’ve just learned to Vogue. I’ve been watching videos with these guys hitting the floor, and it’s the coolest thing ever. So actually, I think I’d hit Tim with that for the win, he wouldn’t see it coming (laughs).

LAC: Other than music, videos, and dance-offs, what else is in store for you guys?

DK: Our goal is always staying creative and consistently making things… music, videos, and everything beyond! Presently, we’re working on 2 TV shows, and launching another app.

LAC: It’s half way through the year. Be honest, have you fulfilled your resolution yet?

DK: My resolution has been pretty effective, working harder and thinking less.

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This one’s a no brainer, come dance! OKGo performs at The Echo on Wednesday July 23rd. In the meantime, listen to the Upside Out EP for a small taste of what’s to come.

RECAP: HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR AT REDBULL SOUND SELECT

When one associates RedBull and music, it’s usually with bands that are indie, edgy, and active. The latest edition of the RedBull Sound Select series really flipped the switch. At a packed house in West Hollywood, east side kids poured in to the Troubadour to get weird and dance all night to house, nu-disco, and R&B.

After salutations, the vibe instantly turned sensual and smooth as Rare Times opened the bill. The LA-based outfit has earned buzz for fusing silky, alt-R&B vocals over moody synthesized tracks. They played favorites like “Sirens Calling” and “Watched Over”- the latter being their most convincing and energetic performance. With much anticipation of their upcoming EP, hopefully the young duo’s live set can further evolve.

The series progressed with the spacey synth-pop sounds of Oh Boy Les Mecs, the group consisting of Mec and leading lady, Tracy Marcellino. She took the stage with messy long hair and a Bjork-esque fluffy, ruffled jacket. Main man, Hanford Pittman, appeared burly and ready to slay – like a Southern hardcore rocker. As if from some dark delirium, the pair creepily and confidently banged out hits like “Unrest” on synths atop of LED tables that lit up in various shades, which added greater stimulation to their live show.

Headlining the night was house/disco collective Hercules & Love Affair, their first performance in LA in 3 years. Fronted by dance music champion, Andy Butler. The NYC based project features a fluctuating cast of music vets who are able to hit high notes and revel across stage like schoolchildren. They performed timeless tracks such as “My House” and “Do You Feel The Same,” steering attendees into a dance frenzy. More insanity ensued when the ensemble invited the audience to party with them on stage.

The highlight of the night was pride of the East Side / Rhonda royalty: DJ Goddollars. He seamlessly curated cohesion between the event’s 3 different acts, while still keeping the party going for attendees.

The next edition of RedBull Sound Select is scheduled for November 21st, for only $3 bucks! RSVP to get your name, first come first served, on the list here.

RECAP: BRITISH DUO ALUNAGEORGE AT THE EL REY

What a belle époque to be a male-female music duo: Beach House, Sleigh Bells, Purity Ring, we really could keep going. One tag-team we’ve had our ears out for is British duo, AlunaGeorge. Producer George Reid and songstress Aluna Francis have been on the scene, serving infectious originals and brilliant features on tracks of other rising acts, like UK electronic duo, Disclosure. The pair has been building buzz with their sub-genre-bending take on pop music, Aluna’s distinctive vocals, and their protagonist verses. Following the summer release of their full length “Body Music,” the Brits hit the road on their first North American tour, and recently made their LA debut to a pumped-up packed house at the El Rey.

Aluna strutted on stage robed as a futuristic boxing goddess with George boyishly bopping on synthesizer, and backed by live drums and bass. As the digital and organic sounds harmoniously flooded the venue, the audience feverishly danced and sang along to favorites like “Attracting Flies,” White Noise,” and “This Is How We Do It.” Their cover of Montel Jordan’s timeless jam was a hit! Aluna’s bright vocals called and the crowd responded in deep refrains of the song’s memorable chorus. The show capped off with another crowd pleaser, “Your Drums, Your Love,” but left with no encore leaving attendees served and eager for more, as AlunaGeorge stepped off waving, blowing kisses and thanking fans.

So, what’s next for the pair? These two are young, talented, and are certainly onto something. Let’s hope the future proves that they’re ideal music mates, unlike some other past boy-girl duos… Ike & Tina? White Stripes? Sonic Youth… too soon?

VIDEO LOVE: JMSN – “LOVE AND PAIN”

Saturated shots of barrenness, children playing, caped individuals, fading moments of affection, and more. Detroit-bred, now LA-based, singer and producer JMSN reveals his intriguing new video for single “Love & Pain.”

Directed by Stephen Mallett (who previously directed the video for “Jameson”), the video strikingly captures clips of life’s themes: Spirituality/Purpose, Adolescence/Innocence, and Connection/Intimacy. Opening with a sax-heavy standout from his self-released debut †Priscilla†, which is slated for re-issue October 2013, this melancholy track is a perfect showcase of JMSN’s well honed Alternative-R&B sound. You may either want to get sexy, or cry, or both – hey, we don’t care to know what you do when you’re in love or in pain. Just make sure this song or its video is on when you do what you do.

 

INTERVIEW: PYYRAMIDS

Your parents always warned you about talking to strangers off of the Internet. Fortunately, Tim Nordwind (of OK Go) and Drea Smith (of He Say, She Say) did not heed that precaution. Briefly introduced by a mutual friend, the two quickly became online pals, bonding over their affinity for post-punk British bands from the 80’s like The Cure, The Smiths, and Joy Division. Scores of emails and months of up-and-downloading musical ideas later, they combined their creative minds to form Pyyramids (yes, the double Y is so you can better search for them on the Internet). The result of their alliance is a dark, moody, and sometimes psychedelic first album, which was debuted earlier this year. We sat to chat music and more with leading lady, Drea Smith:

LAC: It’s one thing to correspond with someone online, and another thing to actually meet them in person. What was it like when you both finally met?

DS: I was recently going through all of our old emails in my Gmail inbox. Tim was the one to initially write me. He was, and still is, so polite. We would just send back and forth music that we loved, mostly Art Rock and British Post-Punk bands from the 80’s. When we finally met in person, he was exactly the same as online. At the time, I was living in Chicago and he was passing through on tour. We decided to meet up at this awesome local lounge and ended up hanging out for 3 hours, just cracking ourselves up. Our personalities are so similar. However, some would say that I’m the louder one and that Tim’s the more laidback one.

LAC: Being that your band would not have formulated without the Internet, how do you feel about digital technology’s impact on music and the creative process?

DS: I see the pros and cons. Digital technology has definitely benefited our project, so I love it. It has created a cool way for bands to start, and to demo music. It’s also been a great way to reach out to fans. It’s crazy that we have fans in places like France and Brazil, and we get to travel to these places because of people around the world having access online to our music. But at the same time, it has gotten harder to get fans to come out and experience music in a live setting. And creativity-wise, it seems that people now have leeway to cut corners with digital music, they can get lazy with it.

LAC: Your album “Brightest Darkest Day” debuted earlier this year. What’s your favorite song on the album and why?

DS: Picking only one song would be like asking to choose which one of your children is your favorite. If I had to pick, right now, it’d be “Invisible Scream” because when I wrote that song, I had just gotten dumped the night before. Tim suggested that we record it immediately. We recorded it right there in his kitchen. The feeling was raw and real, it was everything that I was feeling that day.

LAC: How do you feel about the lack of women in indie rock, especially women of color? Who are some of your favorite ladies rocking these days?

DS: I’m always excited when I see girls, especially of color, in bands. I didn’t grow up with someone who looked like me in rock bands. Yes, there were acts like N.E.R.D and Bad Brains, but no women! I want girls to feel like we can front a rock band, and that we can do anything that we want to do. Of women rocking these days, Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is my hero. Some of my other favorites are Alison Mosshart of The Kills, Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, Emily Haines of Metric, and Savages. Also, I hope one day to a share a bill with Warpaint.

LAC: Post-emails to international shows, has the writing process changed for the band?

DS: Many things are still similar. Just last week, Tim was in Austria. He left me a jump drive, and ideas for some new material. I’ll email him demos and then come over later to record. But yes, being in LA has made just popping over to Tim’s easier.

LAC: As a new Angeleno, what are some of your favorite spots and things to do in LA?

DS: At first, it was a strange transition from Chicago to LA because I haven’t driven in 7 years. I walk around the city a lot, and I really love the Los Feliz area, with all its cute vintage stores, coffee shops, and vegan food. I also like hanging out at Spare Room in Hollywood, and Lock and Key in K-Town. LA is such a diverse and comfortable place to live. I really like LA!

LAC: So, what’s next for Pyyramids?

DS: More shows! We’ll be in LA while on our summer tour, which includes performing at AfroPunk 2013 and then heading back to Europe in the Fall. We’re also recording. There are new songs and possibly a video out this month for “Invisible Scream.” The new material is inspired by our own music, possibly stuff that didn’t make the album. It will most likely combine organic and electronic sounds. Also, I’ll be releasing a solo project this December. Be on the lookout for all of that.

Pyyramids perform at The Bootleg Theater on July 18th with White Arrows. More details here.

SONG OF THE DAY: ELLIPHANT – “DOWN ON LIFE”

The world needs more Scandinavian female acts. Nordic lassies are on the come-up in the international music scene and are a breath of fresh air in a world of cookie-cutter pop stars and wannabe celebs. Some of our recent obsessions are , Tove Lo, LCMDF, and our latest crush, Elliphant.

A singer-songwriter from Sweden, Elliphant is one of the top rising artists in her country. With a well-received 2013 self-titled EP, and co-signs from artists ranging from Diplo to Twin Shadow to Katy Perry, her music is surely crossing the Atlantic.

Today’s chosen track is her song, “Down On Life.” It’s a perfect fusion of indie-pop and reggae, packed with catchy melodies, and Elliphant’s poppy and persuasive vocals. Oh yeah, and did we mention that she’s cute as a button (as all Swedes seem to be)? Hear and see for yourself:

Tickets are available here for her LA show on June 29th at The Fonda. 

RECAP: TOUCHÉ AT THE ECHOPLEX

Earlier this month, Los Angeles-based duo Touché filled the Echoplex with the sounds of synth pop and art-rock. If the names of bandmates Alex Lilly and Bram Inscore ring a bell, it’s because these multi-instrumentalists are well known in the local music scene and have collaborated with many beloved artists like Twin Shadow and Beck. Pupils of Art-Ed, they excitingly and effortlessly showcased the mastery of brain, beauty and beat that night for the record release party of their first album, “It’s Fate.”

No stranger to theatrics, Alex appeared on stage in a superhero-appropriate ensemble of all black, outfitted in a studded bustier and costume cape. Bram sported an oversized windbreaker and grandpa glasses. Beginning their set with “Lock and Key,” and moving into “Everything He Wants,” Touché showcased the two-member band’s ability to sound like a four piece band, with Bram and Alex handling various instruments and vocals seamlessly. With its funky and syncopated bass line, Touché’s track “Bad Dream” had the audience dancing energetically. It was only appropriate, then, that during the song’s bridge, Alex dropped to her knees and shredded with an electrifying guitar solo. 

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The crowd’s energy really ignited, however, when saxophonist James King of Fitz & The Tantrums joined the duo on stage for a few numbers, which were in the vein of Yacht meets Talking Heads. Barbara Ruska of The Belle Brigade also performed with the group on drums. They shouted her out while declaring that the next song was for “all the ladies”, and then broke into “Men Change.”

The last song, “Snow White,” was my favorite. It’s a quirky and clever rendition of the classic fairytale, and fuses elements of funk, rock and jazz. The latter genre is especially apparent in the song’s chorus, with its jolting “zoots” that can be likened to works by jazz legends such as Duke Ellington.

Speaking briefly with Bram offstage, I learned he was ecstatic with the turn out and that “Big Fan” was his favorite song performed that night. An eerie and experimental tune, “Big Fan” is about an overzealous admirer. With such a great performance that night, we’re sure Touché will have plenty of inspiration for future stalker-inspired songs. Just kidding.